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Domestic Workers of the World Unite: A Global Movement for Dignity and Human Rights review: From the margins

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How women of five continents organised a movement

By: R.Krithika

At first look, the title Domestic Workers of the World Unite: A Global Movement for Dignity and Human Rights is a bit daunting. Is this going to be one of those heavy reads crammed with statistics and facts? Open the book and you get sucked into the story of Hester Stephens and how she organised the domestic workers of South Africa into a union. From here, Jennifer N. Fish goes on to scan the domestic work situation across the globe. But the reader is never allowed to forget that this is, at heart, a story of people. People who many don’t even notice unless they are not there.

Through the stories of people like Stephens, Myrtle Witboot, Aida Moreno, Sonu Danuwar Chaudhury among others, Fish traces how the issue came to feature in the International Labour Organization and how Convention 189 was passed. While this came about in 2011, the actual fight on the ground had begun much earlier. The passage of the convention required organisational capacity not just within the country but internationally for them to make their voice heard. For the first time, the convention defined what was to be considered domestic work, the questions of fair wages, of being on call 24×7 especially in the case of live-in labour and the difficult aspect of migratory labour.

Apart from individual voices, Fish also draws from the vast corpus of writing on this issue. So you have personal testimonies, interviews, statements made at various forums and more coalescing to form a strong narrative of how women from five continents literally took on the world. While men do play a part in domestic labour force, “women and girls comprise 83 per cent of this quintessentially feminized workforce.”

Fish also analyses the takeover of this movement by NGOs who began to use the issue of rights for domestic workers in accordance with their own agenda, whether it was child labour, human trafficking or migrant labour. She populates this with lively extracts from campaigns and how domestic work became “a sexy topic” among NGOs.

In the end, what stays with you are the words of a Guatemalan domestic worker, “We have broken the silence. We have yet to break the chains.” With India having ratified the ILO Convention 189 only last year, one can only hope that murmurs swell into a roar here as well.

Courtesy The Hindu


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